West Virginia Center for Civic Life

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The West Virginia. Center for Civic Life is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that helps engage our citizens in community discussions of important public issues that affect our state and nation.

Think. Talk. Act.

Our leadership

Board of Directors

Paul Gilmer President, Paul Gilmer, Charleston, WV

"Public dialogue must be present in society to allow citizen participation--the will of the people--in the governance/decision-making processes that impact the evolution of society in a positive or negative way.”

Paul Gilmer, Manager of Community Affairs for Triana Energy Services Company, also worked for Triana at Columbia Natural Resources and has had many management assignments throughout his 40-year professional career. Gilmer is also a small business owner and volunteer manager of youth development programs.

Joe Barker Joe Barker, Vice-President, Charleston, WV

“Far too often in these days of sound bites, telephone polls and political spin, the individual citizen is ‘spoken for’ rather than ‘spoken with.’ I believe that two-way or multi-directional public dialogue is the only valid and true means for achieving real and meaningful conversation that results in the best possible solutions to public issues.”

Joe Barker is the director of the Office of Community Health Systems and Health Promotion in the WV Bureau for Public Health, working with community, state and federal partners to help create environments in which people and communities can achieve the best possible health outcomes.

No Photo Secretary Susan Gilpin, Huntington, WV

"I have supported the Center's mission for over twenty years because I believe in the transformative power of public dialogue."

Susan Gilpin is an associate dean of the Honors College at Marshall University, where she is assisting with the student curriculum for leadership and civic engagement.


Doug Walters Treasurer, Doug Walters, Charleston, WV

"Throughout my professional career as well as through personal experience, I have found that open, honest conversations are vital to developing relationships that are beneficial for an open society. Those open relationships only come about with an understanding of the importance and need for civil, respectful dialogue."

Douglas J. Walters is a former university dean of students at two institutions and is presently president of a small educational consulting firm, Transformation Specialist, LP.

No Photo David Chairez, Charleston, WV

"In my experience, people flourish most when they have a sense of place, sense of purpose, of power and play. The ideals and practices of democratic dialogue and deliberation provide access to all four and foster the spirit of community necessary for every citizen to exercise his or her best self."

David Chairez is the Deputy Director of Step by Step, Inc., a regional grassroots nonprofit organization that ensures disadvantaged children living in rural, geographically-isolated communities receive continuous, comprehensive care from birth to independent adulthood. Services range from afterschool enrichment and in-home family support to advocacy and the development of coalitions, community groups, and civic organizations.

Shelly DeBarry Shelly DeBerry, Teays Valley, WV

“Change cannot occur without commitment. Commitment cannot occur without ownership. Ownership occurs through the understandings that emerge from dialogues.”

Shelly DeBerry has spent her career working in the fields of human services and education.  She is currently employed by the WV Department of Education and serves in the specialty area of dropout prevention.  Shelly feels very fortunate to be involved in such important work that effects the future of communities in West Virginia. "In my experience, people flourish most when they have a sense of place, sense of purpose, of power and play. The ideals and practices of democratic dialogue and deliberation provide access to all four and foster the spirit of community necessary for every citizen to exercise his or her best self.

Dolly Ford Dolly Ford, Morgantown, WV

"Communities (large and small) are at their very best when they realize their social capital by engaging in deliberative conversations. Difficult decisions can and do get made for the sake of the common good when the public is engaged and informed by one another."

Dolly Ford is a clinical therapist in WVU's Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry and WVU Children's Hospital where she provides therapy to patients and families regarding acute and chronic illnesses and traumas as well as couples and family therapy.

Jill Kriesky Jill Kriesky, Pittsburgh, PA

“I believe that too many people have opted out of public discussion because it's become so contentious and strident. Good ideas to advance society come from people in all walks of life. The WV Center for Civic Life provides all of us with a range of skills to keep engaged in positive, healthy community dialogue.”

Jill Kriesky is a senior project coordinator in the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh. She has worked with numerous organizations in West Virginia, including the WV Center for Budget and Policy, the National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, Wheeling Jesuit University, and WV Campus Compact.

Roger Lohmann Roger Lohmann. Morgantown, WV

“In Appalachia, public dialogue can be especially important as a way of overcoming traditional concerns about alienation and un-involvement of large parts of the citizenry. Nothing is better for overcoming a person's sense that 'my opinion doesn't matter to anyone' than a few hours of involvement in public dialogue. You can't 'give' power to anyone; you can show them how to speak up and listen."

Roger Lohmann retired in 2011 from WVU after a 40-year career in social work education, where his focus was on nonprofit management and social policy dialogue. He recently edited a volume of essays on Public Deliberation and Sustained Dialogue in Communities published by Columbia University Press.

Tim McClung Tim McClung, Charleston, WV

“I strongly agree with these words of Deborah Meier: ‘Democracy, and the kind of thinking that is good for it, doesn’t just happen....We need to constantly inspire a generation of Americans [West Virginians] to take on our collective task of preserving and nourishing the habits of heart and mind essential for a democracy.’”

Tim McClung is with Wells Fargo Insurance Services, focusing on digital risks, including information security, privacy and governance. Formerly, he worked for IBM and the WV Development Office.

Justice Tom McHugh Tom McHugh, Charleston, WV

“In many years as a judge I have observed that civilized dialogue solves many problems or certainly narrows the issues.”

Thomas McHugh is a Justice on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.


Francesca Nestor Francesca Nestor, Morgantown, WV

“Democracy can't work unless we know what the people are really thinking about the issues we face, and we can't know that unless we talk about it in a purposeful way.” 

Franchesca V. Nestor is the Director of West Virginia Campus Compact. She works with colleges across the state to provide support for their service learning and civic engagement programming.


Margaret O'Neal Margaret O'Neal, Beckley, WV

I believe public dialogue is vital to our work as we discuss the future of education, economic development and social issues such as substance abuse in our communities and across the state.

Margaret Ann O’Neal is the Executive Director of United Way of Southern West Virginia which serves Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Summers and Wyoming counties.

Patricia O'Rielly Patricia O’Reilly, St. Albans, WV

“Public dialogue is the exchange and analysis of ideas that produces solutions to civic needs and strengthens civic responsibility.”

Prior to retirement, Patricia O'Reilly, Ph.D. was a Marshall University Associate Vice President who directed Institutional Research and Planning and was also an Associate Professor in Education.


Kent Spellman Kent Spellman, Clarksburg, WV

“The Hub's work has revealed that civic engagement and ongoing public dialogue are the most important community development tools. Without them, community development is not effective or sustainable.”

Kent Spellman is the Executive Director of the West Virginia Community Development Hub, a statewide nonprofit with the mission of engaging communities and providers in an intentional, aligned and continuous system of community development. The Hub is an intermediary, networker, aligner and incubator that connects communities to resources, resource providers to one another, and communities to one another.